Ultimately, who you are is determined not by what you might do, or what you’d like to do, or what you would do in some hypothetical; it’s determined by what you do in the situations life actually throws your way. The chief reward of doing the right thing – and the only reward that can’t be taken away – is what doing the right thing tells you about who you are.
March 2010 Archives
First, decide it's okay to fail and to make a ruckus while failing. THEN go searching for the way to capture that energy and share it with the world.
Clothes don't make the man, the man makes the man. Clothes (and the brand) just amplify that.
The hardest part of understanding something is finding the bottom of the spiral: a simple model of a few aspects of the subject that you can take in all at once, and which can direct you to fruitful lines of inquiry. Many starting points fail either because they are too diffuse to be usefully comprehended by the novice, or so hopelessly oversimplified and inaccurate as to be cut off from any proper understanding of their subject.
Legend has it that when Cortes landed in Mexico in the 1500s, he ordered his men to burn the ships that had brought them there to remove the possibility of doing anything other than going forward into the unknown. Marc Andreessen has the same advice for old media companies: “Burn the boats.”
Long ago, Charlie laid out his strongest ambition: “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” That bit of wisdom was inspired by Jacobi, the great Prussian mathematician, who counseled “Invert, always invert” as an aid to solving difficult problems. (I can report as well that this inversion approach works on a less lofty level: Sing a country song in reverse, and you will quickly recover your car, house and wife.)
I first realized the worthlessness of stuff when I lived in Italy for a year. All I took with me was one large backpack of stuff. The rest of my stuff I left in my landlady's attic back in the US. And you know what? All I missed were some of the books. By the end of the year I couldn't even remember what else I had stored in that attic.
And yet when I got back I didn't discard so much as a box of it. Throw away a perfectly good rotary telephone? I might need that one day.
Conformity is not in itself a good or a bad thing. For example, creativity is built on some of the pillars of nonconformity: ignoring social norms and authority, eschewing social approval, rejecting structure and cultivating dissent. On the other hand many of societies most basic institutions — government, finance, transport, education — would collapse if people didn’t conform.
There’s two directions… companies can move right now. Open, faster, more agile, and more permissive is one. More closed, slower, more calcified, and more hard-assed is certainly another option.
I think the difference is easy to detect. Because it usually reflects the values of a company who think so little of both their audience and their staff that they’d burn cycles on deliberately making their material harder to get.
I would put academia somewhere between film and publishing, but closer to film.
I work in the film business, where schmoozing is an art form, lunch hour lasts from 12:30 until 3, and every meeting takes an hour whether there’s an hour’s worth of business or not. Not so at Vogue, where meetings are long if they go more than seven minutes and everyone knows to show up on time, prepared and ready to dive in. In Anna’s world, meetings often start a few minutes before they’re scheduled. If you arrive five minutes late, chances are you’ll have missed it entirely. Imagine the hours of time that are saved every day by not wasting so much of it in meetings.
Genius is actually the eventual public recognition of dozens (or hundreds) of failed attempts at solving a problem. Sometimes we fail in public, often we fail in private, but people who are doing creative work are constantly failing.
Ah, Wittgenstein. Is there any problem you cannot solve?
Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches.
The best reason to be a jerk at work is that of course no one will listen to you or support you or embrace your ideas — you’re a jerk.
The best reason to be a doormat at work is that in your effort to get along, to be nice, and to go with the flow, of course you won’t be expected to stand up and shout, “follow me” when your ideas might take you in a different direction.
Both extremes are the refuge of the lizard brain, the voice of the resistance. They reward the desire to fit in, not to stand out.
I think this is a skill, a rare one. The ability to be facile in the manipulation of ideas, both theoretical and established, is a valuable one… It takes practice, and it’s worth it.
I sat in a meeting last week with someone who was 100% tactical. She couldn’t let go of the urgency of the moment long enough to envision a different future, even for five minutes. The abstract conceptual part was missing from her part of the conversation.
The trick is to be able to leap to, “if we did A and B, would that get us C? Would C be a good thing? Is it possible to do A and B if we really commit?” and then move on to the next one. And that takes practice. Why wouldn’t it?
When folks need an elevator, we should give them an elevator, not an airplane. We’ve been giving them airplanes for 30 years, and then laughing at them for being too stupid to fly them right.
I think we’re the stupid ones.
It’s always been possible to be very well-informed; there’ve been clipping services and above all old-boy networks; but services cost real money, and many lack networking skills or aren’t Old Boys.
But the Net is the greatest listening engine ever devised. These days anyone can choose, with its help, to be well-informed. You have to make the effort to figure out which key people are really on top of what you care about, so that you can start listening to them…
Nobody can be well-informed about everything or in fact about more than a few things…
I’ve come to expect, of my technical and business peers, that they will be well-informed to an extent that would have been very rare even a couple of decades ago. Can you skip this and still make a difference in the world? I don’t know, but it does seem that we are sorting ourselves into tribes based on the intensity of our listening.
Any assessment of your own abilities is necessarily polluted by your optimism, your pessimism, your passion, and your everyday delusions. On top of that, you are influenced by other people's opinions of your abilities, and other people are just as clueless as you… the two opinions about your abilities that you should never trust are your own opinions, and the majority's opinions. But if a handful of people who have a good track record of identifying talent think you have something, you just might.
Take a look at this list:
- New York is a city.
- It takes me about five hours to fly to New York.
- I’ve been to New York three times this year.
- I never believe I’m in New York until I’m in a cab or smoking a cigarette.
Is this data, information, or knowledge? Or just four boring tweets? That would depend on whether or not you’re interested in my experiences in New York. But what I provide in this list is the opportunity for increasing amounts of understanding, and understanding is the progression through, and synthesis of, increasingly complex pieces of information. Right?
There’s another thread that ties this information together, and you may not initially see it, but if you’ve started mentally asking questions — Why does Rands go to New York? What does he do there? Did I know that he smoked? — you have started to find it.
I’ve begun to tell you a story.
Speciﬁcally, if you discover, in frustration, that you’re pathologically incapable of doing one thing at a time, consider the possibility that you’ve been unknowingly trying to “focus” on two, twenty, or twenty thousand disparate things that you don’t really care that much about. Just consider it.
Because, in the absence of caring, you’ll never focus on anything more than your lack of focus. Think about it.
Think about those times when you really disappeared into challenging work. You had to tear yourself away, right?
Because, during those happy times you were fortunate enough to ﬁnd yourself engaged with something that you cared intensely about, you probably started asking a really different sort of question.
The Forer effect (also called the Barnum Effect after P. T. Barnum’s observation that “we’ve got something for everyone”) is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, graphology, fortune telling, and some types of personality tests.
A related and more generic phenomenon effect is that of subjective validation. Subjective validation occurs when two unrelated or even random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus people seek a correspondence between their perception of their personality and the contents of a horoscope.
If you’ve ever hired or managed or taught, you know the feeling.
People are just begging to be told what to do. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is: “If you tell me what to do, the responsibility for the outcome is yours, not mine. I’m safe.”
When asked, resist.
Applications have a natural tendency to grow. If you don’t pay attention, what started out as an elegant, simple application that perfectly solves a single problem, can quickly turn into a huge behemoth of an application that solves a ton of problems, but solves all of them poorly. Features are always more complex than you think, and many small features quickly add up to one large mess.
This is the kind of application you want:
If you are not careful, this is the kind of application you will end up with:
Constant vigilance is the price you pay for an elegant application.
This means you have to learn to say «no». Your current customers will ask you for a feature they want. Potential customers will tell you that if you add just one specific feature, they’ll buy the app. You can’t be everything for everyone. You have to let some people be customers of your competitors.